Expand Social Work Employment Options

Sell Your Skills

Just call me the Career Architect. I am showing social workers how to craft a career that is both successful and satisfying. As the Career Architect, I am always expounding on the virtue of having a clear vision for one’s life and a corresponding professional mission. The vision is the picture of the life or lifestyle that one desires. The mission encompasses the actions, thoughts, beliefs and behaviors that moves one to the accomplishment of the vision.

In response to the post “Why Did You Choose Social Work,” over 200 hundred social workers shared their stories. Many respondents suggested that their entry into the social work field was accidental. Some stated “social work chose me;” “a professor suggested it;” “I started in another area, but had friends who were social workers.” All of these comments indicate that social work was not the original focus.
Others commented that they had family members who were social workers. Some wanted to right injustices that they or others had experienced. Other respondents stated that they wanted to “help people.” I contend that most social workers have inherent skills that mesh with the tenets of the social work profession. They essentially found a profession that valued and celebrated these skills. Through their educational endeavors and practical experiences they gained additional skills and knowledge.

While the world is driven by job titles, the social work profession is driven by knowledge and transferrable skills. Social workers are capable of making positive impact in any area or employment field. Unfortunately, social workers often rely on job titles instead of their skills to determine a good job fit. Social workers should think in terms of careers and career evolution.

It is difficult to Zag when everyone else has chosen to Zig. While others are trying to fit into a job title, social workers should use their skills to build a career. Readers are probably saying “this is what we do.” “We look for a job by reading the job description. The job description tells us the skills we need to do the job.”
The job description provides responsibilities that correspond to a particular job or position. Job descriptions do not describe the skills needed to accomplish the responsibilities. Assumptions are made based on the wording that is used and the context or setting.

For example, a summary of responsibilities for a position may be written as follows:
The successful candidate will establish and maintain relationships that contribute to satisfactory resolution of disputes; create and maintain an effective dispute resolutions environment; provide quick, effective and responsive mediation of disputes. Conduct analysis and recommend solutions to specific problems or concerns.

I have deliberately removed the job title and job setting to facilitate this discussion. A job title or setting would bias the reader’s thinking. Without it, this summary could correspond to any number of job titles or job settings. The reader must rely on their own understanding of the skills or knowledge that is necessary to perform the functions stated in the summary. The skills needed to perform these functions are skills that social workers possess.

Social workers will increase their marketability and reach by delineating their skills and diversifying the industries in which they work.

Zag colleagues, Zag!

How does this look? Here are three important tasks to begin the process.
Know the skills you possess:
There are many tools and books that provide skill assessments or skill discovery exercises. One of my favorites is in “What Color is your Parachute” by Richard Bolles. Mr. Bolles begins by having the reader determine the skills used in three separate categories, people, data or things. The richness of this strategy allows the reader to determine under which category they personally prefer to use their identified skills.
There are many other resources to determine one’s skills. A simple exercise is to make a list of all the work functions that one performs on a daily basis. Take these functions and break them down to the simplest actions possible. Some functions are comprised of several distinct skills. One social worker stated that one of her skills was assessing.

When one assesses a situation or a person’s behavior, one must ask questions, appropriately phrase the questions, listen, assess the answers, ask follow-up questions for clarity, observe body language, etc. There are a number of skills that comprise assessing. Detailed awareness of exact tasks one performs will aid in developing a comprehensive list of skills. One should also inventory the skills used a way from the work environment as well.

Know the positive outcomes you achieved as a result of those skills:
It may be tempting to generalize your skills. The purpose of the above exercise and exercises in the books is for you to gain an understanding of ‘what you bring to the table.’ Social workers have a habit of minimizing the extensive skillset they possess.

Once you have a comprehensive list of your skills, look critically at each skill. Were you aware of these skills? Were you surprised that so many skills were used throughout the day? Exactly how and in what situation were these skills used? Most importantly determine the skills that you most thoroughly enjoy. These tend to be the skills that are used most often and utilized without thought. It is easy to overlook these skills because they are natural or easily put into play.

After taking a critical look at your skill list, think about the outcomes that you achieved as a result of using the individual skills or combinations of skills. Write these outcomes as well. They represent the information that you can use to market your skills in a variety of work settings.

Know the value of those skills in non-social service fields:
Now that you have clarity regarding your skillset and you have documented professional achievement as a result of your skillset, determine the professional situations that would benefit from the identified skills. It is important to think in terms of professional situations as opposed to job titles.

For example negotiating, persuading, instructing, or consulting can be performed in any number of professional settings. These general terms describe skill combinations that achieve specific outcomes. Can you name situations or settings in which these skills are used?

Researching employment settings that use or require the use of these skills provide awareness of the possibilities and opportunities that are available to social workers.

Thinking in terms of skills instead of job titles will require a shift in thinking. One’s point of view may need to broaden in order to perceive and consider the possibilities. Use the example above and begin to think about the industries that would benefit from an infusion of social work skills.

I would love to hear from you. You may join the conversation by commenting on this post on our Facebook fan page REAL Social Workers Online Magazine, joining the “Social” Social Workers Project or connecting with me on LinkedIn.

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